Saturday, February 21, 2015

‘Ashes To Ashes’

I was preparing another collection of sea going mendacities and distortions when a rather humorous memory came to mind…

The year was 1995 and I’d been transferred to the newly commissioned USS Rainier out of Bremerton, Washington with our first opportunity at a Burial at Sea! It’s one of the things done often in the Navy… probably more often than most realize at approximately 900 each and every year!! It was a calm bright day with a light wind dancing the Devil’s fandango and few clouds overhead!! What a splendid day for such an esteemed ceremony!!! 

Good Ol’ Vets who’d passed away were cremated and their remains sent to USS Umpty Squat somewhere in the middle of the open seas! On board we’d hold a service on the flight deck recognizing their service and show the proper entombment to Davey Jones and the briny deep!! It was good to see our brethren off with the proper respects!!!

Most of the crew was handpicked by the Skipper, Command Master Chief, or our Senior Chief Master-At-Arms! We were dressed in honor guard appropriate attire with neat, knife edge creases… looking the part of confident, self-assured sea fairing Crackerjacks!! After all, Alfred Hitchcock said it best…

“There is nothing quite so good as burial at sea. It is simple, tidy, and not very incriminating.”

…but on this particular day nothing could be further from the truth!!!

Little did the crew know we’d run into a good crosswind to muck things up! And little did they know that many in this gaggle of shipmates formed together as a detail were nothing less than a circus of seagoing clowns who felt it their military duty to one up each other in keeping everyone else amused!! You had to develop armadillo hide to fend off derogatory comments, harpooned insults and multi-colored sarcasm from every direction!! So on with the show as the hymms and eulogies were spoken to the ashes of the dearly departed!!!

Then from outta the background as the homage was articulated…

“I heard the poor soul lost a vodka drinking contest with a pack of Russian mariners and croaked on the floor while piss’n his pants…”

“Who said that?!?”

… asked the Master Chief but no one answered as a moment came and went before another murmured…

“They said he was accosted by a bunch’a inbred fuckups from B.F.E in a bar fight…”

“I better not hear another word from back their or I’ll be tickling some tonsils from the reverse direction with my size eleven foot up your ass!”

… that shut the clowns up for a short stint!!!

During the ritual our XO read the opening piece, then the Master Chief recited a quote about the ol’ Salt and a prayer was read! We had seven Gunnersmates do the twenty-one gun salute as our deceased comrade’s ashes were prepared to be put to the deep!! Unfortunately when the ashes scattered, the swirling wind picked-up and blew the poor soul all over the XO’s face, dress uniform & all!!!

Now many an officer I’ve known had been the usual apostle of moral smugness that I would have reveled in such a situation, but the Commander was of exception!! He was a good respectable man who I would not have wished this upon… but shit happens!!!

It was at that instant the XO had that look while he must’ve been thinking…

“Holy shit! My sins creep upon me, sent by the Devil... I have dead people all over me!”

The XO was looking kind’a pasty! You couldn't help but feel if he stood in front of the tofu in a Safeway, he might end up in a shopping cart… it was richer than three feet up a bull’s ass!! But I give the Commander credit for his demeanor!!!

The ashes had fallen and the wind spread’em all along the flight deck starboard side! Shit I would’a been cussing like a whorehouse parrot and busted a shit string had it been me!! That took some serious self-restraint and some new found respect for the big fella!!!

 Several in ranks let out a giggle as I think Gurley was heard whisper’n…

“It’s better to shoot for the stars and miss than to aim at a pile of shit and hit!”

“Shit… Shut up, and get back to attention.” 

… Yelled the Master Chief!

Ashes always fly back in the face of he who throws them! MACS had us hold several rehearsals for the ship’s first burial ceremony in which many lessons were learned, and many Dixie Cups were blown over the side… but nothing prepared us for that!! I could only imagine if they’d called away…

“Sweepers, Sweepers man your brooms, Sweep down all lower decks, ladders and passageways… now Sweepers!”

…That would have made everyone’s day!!!


  1. SO good to see this one, 'cause I for one have been telling it for years.

    - "Preacher"

  2. I remember a burial at sea on the USS Boston SSN 703. The day before they had painted the sail and the seaman who mixed up the poly forgot to put in the hardener. Well, we ran out of Groton down the Thames River and out beyond the 12 mile limit to do the burial. We had a sudden gust of wind whirl around us as the box was opened and the ashes were scattered over the side. Next thing we knew most of the deceased was spread over the still wet paint on the sail. We ended up having to repaint the sail (with hardener this time) to cover over our deceased shipmates remains.

  3. I remember having trouble getting a weighted casket to sink, he just kept floating around. Finally the CO had the gunners mates shoot holes in it.��

  4. Just when I thought I had heard everything!

  5. Frank Burt former PO1June 30, 2017 at 9:51 PM

    I intend to have my ashes scattered at sea as well. Hell, I would probably be willing to pay to see something like that happen at my ceremony. I am requesting that my family send money to the burial detail involved so they can buy a keg on me the next port call after the service.

  6. I was on LPA-249 that did a cremains service on the flight deck for four men. We used a board to slide the four boxes holding the cremains respectfully into the deep. Scriptures were appropriate and uniform of the day by assigned seaman. Then, a unexpected problem arose when the XO noticed the cremain boxes didn't sink after quite a spell so the gunners mates were mustered up for small arms practice and promptly put some bulls eyes on the boxes and sent all of them to the bottom of the sea.

  7. I was watching this in the Flight Deck Camera on the Bridge. Was rolling.

  8. I participated in two burials at sea the first was a coffin burial, which occurred several months after one ship shot a coffin full of holes so it would sink. As a result the one we had took four of us on each side and one on each end just to lift it. While proceeding to the burial location we rigged a platform out of shoring and placed the coffin on it and secured it in place atop two roller conveyors we used during replenishment. When the time came it rolled off nicely and floated for about ten minutes by which time the XO and Co were starting to see their careers going down the tubes because we would have to sink it with gun fire or retrieve it from the sea. Just as the XO turned around to tell us to get the machine gun Davy Jones took that moment to take our brother home, and the coffin sank. The second time was on a different ship and he was cremated, we came to all stop and not a hint of a breeze and the sea was flat as glass right up until the container was tipped over where that breeze came from no on knew but it scattered the remains all over the fantail. The service continued as respectfully as we could make it. Including about a 30 minute wait before sweepers were called away, followed by a fresh water wash down of the fantail.